Minnesota smacks company for providing free online education

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, October 19, 2012 16:31 EDT
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A student feels frustrated by studying. Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
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The State of Minnesota made it clear recently that free education over the Internet is not kosher unless the state lawmakers explicitly approve of it.

Whether that’s actually the case remains to be seen, but according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, that’s basically what state officials told Cousera, an educational nonprofit that partners with universities to offer free courses over the Internet.

The online education provider, created by Stanford professors, doesn’t charge anything and doesn’t issue degrees. Even so, after receiving a sternly worded letter from Michigan officials in July, staff added a small caveat to Coursera terms of service, which reads:

Notice for Minnesota Users:

Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. If you are a resident of Minnesota, you agree that either (1) you will not take courses on Coursera, or (2) for each class that you take, the majority of work you do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota.

An entry in law books for more than two decades in Minnesota says that no organization may provide instruction in the state without first obtaining permission from the government.

Despite the law, other online course websites like the Khan Academy and Harvard and MIT’s collaboration edX haven’t made any adjustments to their terms of service that would suggest they’ve received a similar notice.

Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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